Title: Fragments
By: DamaskanRose
Pairings: Sam/Dean
Warning: WiP
Rating: NC-17
Author's Notes: This is my first attempt at this; I'll do my best to live up to that NC-17 rating. The boys haven't led me completely down the road yet, so I was hesitant to put any other rating on it. There's also a very brief reference to "The Benders." Anyway. I hope you enjoy.
Summary: If he moved too sharply, went down on his knees too quickly, he could feel them; all of the fragments shifting inside him, slicing like slivers of glass.

***

Praeludere: A Semblance of Before

If he moved too sharply, went down on his knees too quickly, he could feel them; all of the fragments shifting inside him, slicing like slivers of glass. He bit down on the pain, praying it didn't show on his face when he lifted his eyes to his baby brother. All of those fragments were his to carry, his to bear, he didn't want or need Sam trying to pick up the pieces. To attempt to put them back into some semblance of before.

Dean had already tried to fuse them together. He had walked through flames, had kept his breath under water; gave whatever it took to save strangers and family alike. He'd learned that grateful tears and unspoken words were useless balms. Finding Sam, bringing him back to the hunt, was his last hope. When that failed to make him whole, he had felt the weight of resignation settle around him like a shroud.

~*~*~*~*~

Dean was half way across the room, his back to him, when Sam spoke. The distance was too much; had seemed too far to bridge, but the choice was no longer left to him.

"For so long, Dean...For so long I tried to be like you, but I'm not."

"What are you talking about, Sam?"

Sam stood slowly, his long frame unfolding from the hard seat by fluid inches; he walked with intent towards Dean, gently pushing into his brother's guarded personal space. He slid his hands under the lapels of Dean's jacket, pushing the material off of broad shoulders. Dean jerked, his muscles tense, unrelenting, but he let the jacket fall to the floor around his feet. Before Dean could react, Sam had tugged his shirt up, urging it over Dean's head.

"What are you doing?"

Sam didn't answer; he let his eyes wander across the taut stretch of Dean's tanned skin. Sam brushed his thumb over a scar on his brother's clavicle and closed his eyes. He remembered that night, the way Dean had uneasily shed his t-shirt, the way his lips twisted in suppressed pain. Sam hadn't been sleeping like Dean had thought; he saw the blood, the way it ran like a rivulet of rain water from the deep cut. That blood, as red as a Damask rose in full bloom, was the same that coursed though his own veins, but he knew in that moment that it ran truer than his ever would.

In the dark heat, tangled in the motel's worn sheets, Sam had struggled to keep himself still. He heard the rush of water as Dean started the shower, felt more than saw the steam that slipped through the partially open door. But when the cadence of the falling water shifted, no longer hitting tile but instead warm, wounded skin, Sam found himself standing on the other side of the door. Helpless and wanting something, someone, so badly he ached with it.

Opening his eyes, Sam looked at the man standing in front of him. He looked at the sweep of his brother's long, black lashes; Dean tried to hide behind them, tried to keep the confusion, the anguish, which caught and darkened the shade of his irises, to himself. If Sam hadn't been standing so close, he might have missed it; he'd already missed too much.

"Sam, please..."

"You give and you fight, Dean, but never for yourself," Sam said, sweeping his thumb up and over the mottled bruise-colored remnant of a burn; he couldn't block the memory, one of many that nearly brought him to his knees. Because later that night, after they had made their way back to the motel, Dean had pulled singed cloth from the burn, hissing through clenched teeth; he had refused Sam's help, wouldn't let Sam wrap those scraps around his guilt, binding it tighter.

"It's nothing, Sammy," he had said. "Those sick bastards could have parted skin from bone and I still would have fought."

Those words, said so quietly he could barely hear them, did little to allay his guilt. Because Sam knew Dean would have died to save him. Every day, every hunt, brought Sam closer to the knowledge that he would lose the one thing that meant everything to him, simply because the feeling was truly and utterly reciprocated. It tore him apart, but, God, it only made him love Dean more.

"I'm not like you, Dean. Because if it came down to it on a hunt, I would sacrifice a stranger to keep you safe, and you would never let your life come before someone else's."

"That's not true, Sam, you feel "”"

"Don't," Sam said, his tone sharp, ragged. "These scars you carry? Each one represents a fight you could have lost."

"But I didn't, Sam. I'm good-"

"When are you going to realize that you are not invincible? When, Dean? What's it going to take?"

Sam felt his lungs straining; his breathing was labored, affected by the weight of emotions he had no rational name for. Dean had tipped his head back, resting it against the dark paneled wall. His lips glistened, parted, though no sound made it past their perfect curves.

"Dean..."

"I know I'm not invincible, Sammy. I've seen my life flash before my eyes so many times I've lost count. Each time, though, there has been one thing, one image in my mind that has pulled me through. That one thing sustains me, lets me keep doing what I do."

"Dean..."

"It's you, Sam," Dean said, his voice breaking on that last syllable. He pushed his head back further, clenching his eyes shut. "I've wanted to give up so many times, but I can't put the pieces back together, and I can't make the darkness go away. But you...Somehow you make it okay, you make me okay, and I think that maybe I can go on, if only for one more day."

"Please don't say that," Sam said, pleading with his voice and his eyes and his hands as they moved over Dean's body.

"I've done so many things, Sam. You don't even know...you were off, living your life...But then I brought you back and you were all that was left of good and light and..."

Sam didn't think; he lowered his head, pressed his lips to Dean's, ending the rush of his brother's painful confession. He pushed with his tongue, whimpering when Dean let him in, when he laved his own against it. Rocking into the cradle he had made of Dean's hips, Sam brought his hand up to hold his brother's head, bringing it impossibly closer.

Dean's hands roamed up Sam's back; Sam could feel those agile fingers through his shirt, massaging, learning each slope of muscle and bone. But it wasn't enough. He wanted, needed, more. Lifting his head, Sam forced a deep, wild breath into his body. He had to be sure, couldn't continue if...

"Do you want me? Do you want to be with me?"

"I "”"

"You never knew...I could never find the right way to tell you...but I gave myself to you a long time ago, Dean. My heart, my soul, everything that I am is yours. And I won't settle for less. I want you, Dean. I want all of the broken pieces, each beat of your heart, all of that gorgeous, scarred skin. Everything. Can you give me that?"

"Sammy, the moment you opened your eyes and looked up at me, I was lost. You can have what's left of me," Dean whispered, "if you promise to never let it go."

"You'll never be free of me," Sam said softly, but with a ferocity that shook him. And he knew it was true, knew deep inside the lengths he would go to in order to keep that promise.

"So wh-" Dean paused, cocking his head. "Is that your cell?"

"My what?" Sam blinked.

"Your phone. It's ringing," Dean said.

Sam felt Dean ease into the wall, a silent barrier rising up between them. Sighing in frustration, Sam ran his fingers along the side of Dean's face; callused skin caught on stubble, each brother closed his eyes, struggling to let go one last time.

"You need to answer it, Sam," Dean said. Authority and hesitancy fought for control of his voice.

"Yeah, I know," Sam said, responding to both in equal parts. Easing away from Dean's warmth, Sam looked around the room for his jacket. He found it slung over a chair; the sound of the cell's ring seemed shrill and distasteful in the silence that had swamped the air.

Tugging the phone from his pocket, Sam looked down at the display. Had Sam not answered the phone, he knew this particular caller wouldn't have given up. Rubbing the bridge of his nose, Sam took a moment before pressing the button that would connect him to his father.

"Hi, Dad," Sam said, glancing up at Dean.

Immediately straightening away from the wall, Dean walked over to the bed closest to Sam, sinking down on the firm mattress. He laid his arms across his knees; Sam could see the fine edge of a tremor shake his brother's hands. If Dean was nervous after a kiss, a few words, Sam couldn't begin to imagine how they were going to deal with what was between them.

"Hey, Sammy," John said. "I'm going to need you boys to meet me in about two hours."

"Where are you?"

"Don't worry about that. Just get to Minodine Park in two hours," John said.

"We'll be there," Sam responded. He ended the connection and tossed the phone on the bed. "Dean -"

"After, Sam," Dean said. "After we meet with dad."

"And after? What's going to be your excuse then?"

"Damn it, Sam, I said we'd talk about it, and we will," Dean said, standing. Without glancing back, Dean strode to the room's small bathroom, closing the door behind him.

***

Dean rested against the door, praying that his legs wouldn't give out on him, that he wouldn't slide to the cold tile of the floor. He rubbed his palms against the rough denim on his thighs and looked around the cramped space. The shower curtain hung off the rod, the sink was stained, but the mirror had seen the worst in its time. The glass was broken, tiny cracks that swept from corner to corner like a spider's web; the frame was peeling, layers of paint falling away to reveal the bare, raw wood beneath.

He walked to the sink, and placed unsteady hands on either side of the cold porcelain. Head dipped down, he thought of the admission he had made to Sam; each word had felt like it was being ripped from his throat. And it didn't matter that every damn word of it had been a truth he had clung to like a lifeline. He couldn't call them back now that they belonged to Sam.

Weakness was a luxury that Dean Winchester would never allow himself. And if that meant that emotion had to fall by the wayside, so be it. Unfortunately, his Sammy had never been of the same mind. And, if he was being honest, he didn't know how to approach his brother, how to have that talk he had promised him. How to...accept everything Sam had offered him.

Gazing in the mirror, he focused on his lips; he could still feel Sam's tongue, licking the seam, seeking sanctuary. He could feel a helpless whimper rise in his throat, and he gripped the sink tighter, forcing blood to retreat from his fingers. But the kiss was still there like a brand against his skin, and now that he'd been marked, he wanted more.

God help him, but he wanted more.

Blinking into the broken glass, he tried to steady himself; his reflection betrayed him. Desire darkened his eyes, pushing out color and light. His cheeks were flushed and his lips were parted. He watched his chest rise and fall on every deepened breath; noticed the wet sheen that rode his shoulders and the liquid drops that gathered between his collarbones.

He couldn't think past Sam: His brother's pliant skin, the curve of his jaw, the dip at the base of his spine. Those long legs and the rough pads of his teasing fingertips; the way they would wrap around Dean's hips, trail up his back. Images shifted in his mind, each more potent then the one before.

In the mirror he watched his hand slide from the sink; he bit his lip as his fingers found the button on his jeans and tugged. The zipper fell slowly, releasing the pulsing, hard length of his cock. He felt feverish; the cool air brushed against his skin; a shiver rocked his shoulders. He closed his eyes to escape, but Sam was there, pressed against his thoughts.

Teasing the thick tip with a touch so hesitant it ached, Dean opened his eyes; the man staring back at him was undone.

"Sammy," he whispered, as he gripped his erection, sliding his hand to its base. Dean shuddered; he tightened his fingers as he swept his hand back up. His hips thrust restlessly, heedlessly against the sink as pleasure lit up his nerves.

Bracing his other hand against the wall, Dean jerked faster, harder. Soft cries echoed around him, but he was lost to sensation and a picture of Sam, warm and willing in his arms.

His orgasm hit him, bowing his spine, buckling his knees. His breath caught, and he could feel the muscles in his stomach contract, heard the broken sound that slipped from his lips. He caught the sink before he hit the floor and prayed that Sam was wrapped up in distraction, that the thin wall that separated them was enough to contain Dean's need.

Euphoria clung to his eyes and not even the black sweep of his lashes could hide the incandescent glow. Turning the water on, Dean let it flow over his hand, trickle through his fingers. Cupping his palms, he let the water flood and gather, and splashed it over his face.

Cutting the water, he grabbed a towel, and gave his heart beat time to settle into a reasonable rhythm. Adjusting his clothes, he rolled his shoulders, realizing that he had to leave the small room. That he had to look in his brother's eyes and pretend, for the moment at least, as though no words had been said at all.

Pretend...he knew how to do that; perhaps too well.

***

Sam pressed his fingertips against the scarred wood of the bathroom door; he rested his forehead against it, and tried to bring himself down from the place hearing Dean's cries had taken him. He closed his eyes, felt the tear slip down despite the barrier of his lashes, and reconciled himself to silence. Hearing the rush of water ease and then stop, Sam lifted his head and backed away from the door with slow, shuffling steps.

Sam turned as the doorknob began to rotate; he wiped at the trail on his cheek with his thumb and cleared his throat. He could hear Dean rustling, picking through their belongings, stowing everything in their battered duffels.

"Dad didn't say we'd need to leave, Dean," he said. He tilted his head, shaking it imperceptibly, and tried to will away the tremor that held his voice. He thinned his lips, tried again. "We just need to meet him."

"I just want to be ready, is all," Dean said quietly, still pulling and tugging at the contents of the bags. Sam wondered how he could sound so steady, so in control, when Sam felt anything but.

Sam slid his hand into his pocket, glanced over at the clock, which blinked neon green in the near dark. "We'd better go."

"Yeah."

Sam walked to the bed and shouldered one of the bags Dean had been preparing. He didn't, couldn't, look at his brother. He walked back across the threadbare carpet and pulled open the door, inhaling the rich scent of autumn leaves burning. He could just make out a trail of smoke, black as ash, against the clouds.

Tugging the Impala's door open, Sam pushed the duffel into the backseat, and slid in. Dean mirrored him; he closed the door and the car's interior magnified his scent: Cinnamon and leather, sweat and sex. Sam breathed it in; the leaves burning, backyard bonfires and barbecues, meant home for some families. But not for Sam; for Sam, home was a man with breathtaking eyes, decadent dimples, and a wicked smile. Home was that mix of spice and life that teased his senses, that drove him crazy.

"I can't go on without you, Dean," Sam whispered, but if his brother had heard him, he didn't respond. Sighing, he turned his head to gaze out the window and slid lower in the seat.

Bare branches flew by as Dean drove on, and just when Sam began to think he couldn't take the quiet, his brother began to hum. It was soft and hesitant, but it was there, sweet and rough at the same time. Sam pulled his hoodie around him, but what he really wanted to do was wrap his brother's voice around him, to slide it against his skin. Instead, he sat there and listened, tried to make out what the song was.

It wasn't anything he could recall Dean listening to; the rhythm was stripped down and had a sentimental edge that classic rock just couldn't claim. Sam blinked, trying to hold onto it, to force lyrics into his head. As hard as he tried, though, he couldn't place it. He settled his head back, resting his cheek against the cool seat, and let his eyes close again.

"What I should have said just wouldn't pass my lips, so I held back and now we've come to this, and it's too late now," his brother sang so softly the words could barely be heard above the car's exhaust. But the tone of his voice carried the ache to Sam and he had to fight every instinct that screamed at him to reach out. "What do I do now that you're gone, no back-up plan, no second chance, and no one else to blame. All I can hear in the silence that remains are the words I couldn't say."

He could sense Dean's gaze when it shifted to his face, knew when it switched back to the road, and when Dean settled back into a soft hum, Sam felt his chest tighten. Dean was going to let this, whatever it was that they had, go; he was going to let it slip through his fingers, and Sam just couldn't understand why. The only thing he knew right then was that he wasn't going to give Dean up, wasn't going to let Dean give up, not without a fight.

"Sam," Dean said, slowing the car, "this is it."

Hesitantly opening his eyes, Sam peered out at the large granite pillars that flanked the park's entrance. Caught between the stone sentinels was a wrought iron sign; in curled, gothic lettering it said Minodine Park. He pushed up in the seat, rubbed distractedly at the kink in his lower back, and tried to clear his head.

"I don't see dad's truck," Dean said, his eyes searching the lot as he approached a spot. Despite the hour, the park had a number of visitors; cars littered the small area, some parked on grass, others on the gravel.

When Sam's phone rang in his pocket, he nearly jumped. His hand snagged on the material and he fumbled the phone out. Taking a deep breath, Sam connected the call. His father interrupted the greeting that was on his tongue.

"Sam, for once don't ask questions. You and your brother are here for a late night hike, okay? Go through the park and meet me at the Maze."

"The Maze? Dad, what-"

"I said no questions, Sam. Just do it and...be careful," John said, and then the line disconnected in Sam's ear.

Sam lowered the phone, and turned in his seat. Dean was watching him, waiting for him to relay their orders. "He said that we're here for a hike and that we need to go through the park. We need to meet up with him at the Maze."

"The Maze? What the hell is that?"

Sam shrugged. He slipped the phone back in his pocket and cracked open the door. Stretching to his full height, Sam heard bones pop and felt relief edge down his spine. He loved being in the car, loved watching Dean drive, but his body often felt otherwise. He saw the trunk lift and went to the back to help Dean gather supplies.

They settled for items that were as inconspicuous as possible, and hid the majority of what they had as best they could; even so, Sam could tell that Dean was uncomfortable, that he felt unprepared. Sure, they were going to meet up with their father, but situations that included the older man rarely remained peaceful or went uninterrupted for long.

Walking towards the edge of the park's forest, Sam glanced over at Dean. His posture was stiff; his eyes darted in between the trees, trying to search out something that may not even be there.

"I don't like this, Sammy," he said. "I don't like this at all."

***

Dean looked through the thick canopy of trees ahead, wondering how the park remained untouched by the onset of Fall. Leaves had settled along the ground, between rocks and fallen limbs, but the forest was still lush and thriving. The sharp scent of pine was undercut by the licorice of goldenrod; it only got stronger as they approached the tree line.

The hiking trail was clearly marked if poorly lit. Dean heard the snap of Sam's flashlight a second before its thin beam of ivory light hit the dirt. With a slight nod, they stepped onto the path, crunching pebbles and pinecones beneath their boots. There was no need for stealth; they were, in fact, supposed to be enjoying this impromptu late night hike, but Dean still cringed at the persistent sound.

Angling slightly in front of Sam, Dean continued down the path, his eyes roaming over Joe Pye Weed and Heath Aster. The forest floor was carpeted in hardy perennials and moss; care of the park was certainly a priority in this town. Minodine was creepy as hell, he thought, but it was beautiful.

"I bet this place is a stunner during the summer," he said, glancing over his shoulder at Sam.

"It's not too shabby now," Sam answered, casting the beam of light in an arc in front of them.

"So how are we supposed to find this maze? The trees look like they go on forever," Dean said. He tried not to think about how much he hated their father's cryptic bullshit, his need-to-know basis. As far as Dean was concerned, John sent them into too many situations unprepared. And if he ever admitted that out loud, Sam would probably keel over from shock. Chuckling, Dean sidestepped a thin limb that stuck out of a bed of hard dirt.

"What's so funny?"

"What?"

"You laughed," Sam said. "So what's so funny?"

"Nah, must've been an owl you heard."

"An owl? Rig-oof."

Dean swung around in time to see Sam trying to extract the tip of his boot from underneath a root that had lifted from the ground. He bent his knee and tugged, but it didn't give way. Resting his free hand against a large Beech, Sam tried again; his boot slid free, but the leather came away with thin scars. "Damnit!"

"I can fix it," Dean said, turning back to the path. "It'll be almost as good as new. Well, new for us, at least."

"You still have that old kit dad gave you?"

"Yeah," he answered. Dean remembered the night John had given him the slim black leather case, perfectly: He had been standing in front of the bathroom mirror for a couple of hours, trying to work his first tie into a Windsor knot. His fingers kept fumbling it as they shook; he was trying to convince himself that a school dance was not an occasion that instills terror. But for a fifteen year old who was more comfortable with guns and knives, despite his easy charm, maybe it was. His father walked in, took one look at the wrinkled mess around his neck, and maneuvered the material until it lay smooth against the starched emerald green shirt he wore.

"You've got to coax it, Dean, with a light touch."

John left for a minute as Dean admired the dimple in the knot; when he walked back in the room he had the case with him. His father sat on the lip of the tub, and extended it to him with both hands. "This was your grandfather's. Back from his military days."

Dean had brushed his thumb against the leather and the small, gold plaque that was etched with an elaborate "˜W'. When he opened it, he was surprised by the contents, having thought that it would contain a weapon.

"It's for your shoes. Your grandfather believed that any man who took pride in himself, in his work, took care of his shoes. "˜Course if he hadn't shined his shoes until he could seem his face in them, his commander would have had him peeling potatoes for weeks."

Dean had laughed and shut the lid on the box, but later that night, when John and Sam were asleep, Dean had gotten out his shoes and had polished them until they shone in the light that came in through the window. Over the years, it had become habit for him, and though his boots were practically ancient, no one could ever tell by looking at them.

Sam stepped up beside him, nudging Dean's arm with his elbow. "Sorry."

"We need to keep walking," Dean said, and though his feet suddenly felt heavy, he did just that. The flashlight's beam flickered beside him; Sam tapped it against his palm. "I've got extra batteries."

"We shouldn't need them," Sam said, repeating the action. After a second the light steadied, but it was weaker, barely illuminating their dense surroundings. "I just replaced the damn things yesterday."

"There's light over there," Dean said, nodding towards a barren patch of land that lay about a quarter of a mile ahead of them. Trees clustered around it, but their branches did not extend over the spot, leaving the moonlight to fall through the opening. "When we reach it we'll put the new ones in, just in case."

"Yeah, okay," Sam agreed, following Dean as he moved forward.

"I don't get it," Dean said abruptly. "That parking lot was filled with cars, so where is everybody?"

"I've been wondering the same thing."

"Did I mention that I don't like this?"

"Ah, yeah. Rather emphatically," Sam answered, smiling.

"Emphatically? What the hell kinda word is that?"

"A good one?"

"What have I told you about using that fancy SAT vocabulary on me, Sammy-boy?"

"Dean, do you even remember reading Cat in the Hat? Or maybe you were more of a Berenstain Bears kinda guy."

"Sam, please. Cat in the Hat? Now Green Eggs and Ham, that's a classic."

"Always with the food. I swear-"

Dean stopped short, cocking his head; he could feel Sam close behind him. His brother's heat slipped through the layers of Dean's clothes. Though he knew better, he let his eyes drift shut, tamping down on the urge to turn and press closer. Breaking the moment, Dean forced his lids open, and caught a flash of something through his lashes.

"Dean?"

"A second ago, before...I thought I heard something."

"Before what?"

"And something just moved through that clearing," he said, and began walking towards it, his pace quick and careful. "Sam, come on."

He reached the break in the trees a few steps in front of his brother. Stepping into the clearing, he realized he was standing in a large circle, edged by drooping Verbena and littered with dried up leaves. Rotating, Dean squinted against the suddenly bright light, searching for what had attracted his attention.

"Dean, come look at this," Sam said. He was crouched down near the center of the circle, brushing his hand over smooth dirt. As Dean approached, he saw what Sam was doing; underneath that thin layer of dirt was a square block of stone.

"What is that?"

"I'm not sure," Sam answered. "Did you bring that small switchblade?"

Dean pulled the knife out of his pocket and handed it to Sam. He watched as his brother opened the blade and sank the tip into a crease in the stone. Working the area, Sam loosened the dirt; when he brushed it away, the brothers leaned in.

"A letter? A symbol? What?"

"I'm not sure," Sam said. He applied the blade to a few more areas where the dirt seemed to be impacted. "But I'd say it was done by hand."

"Man, we haven't even found the maze yet, and this place keeps getting better and better."

Straightening, Dean rubbed at the back of his head. Walking towards the edge of the circle, he remembered the flashlight, and was about to turn back for it when he saw a man walking through the trees a few feet away. "Excuse me?"

When the figure didn't stop, Dean didn't think; he followed. Distantly, he heard Sam calling his name, but he felt compelled to catch up. He walked over large tree limbs, slipping on mud and slick leaves, but he didn't stop until he lost sight of his target. He blinked, trying to get a grip on his surroundings.

"What the hell?"

Dean looked down and saw his reflection writhe in a pond beneath him. The bridge he was on was built from rock and stone; it showed its age in its weathered coloring and crumbling pieces. He gazed back at the path that had led him there, saw how it wound out of sight, and cursed himself for leaving Sam. Alone and with few weapons.

Ever since their conversation, Dean had felt off balance. If his nerves hadn't been so tangled, he thought, he never would have left that circle. And if he had, he damn well would have found what he had been chasing after. But if he was being honest, all of the "what-ifs" and "maybes" were screwing with his head; he couldn't do his job, couldn't protect Sam, if all he thought about was sinking so deeply into his brother's body that he became a part of him. The thought alone was nearly enough to cripple him. And that was only one of the reasons why it could never happen.

Dean kept his eyes down, tracking the imprint of his boot heel in the mud. He walked as quickly as he could, barely registering the forest around him; he just needed to get back to Sam. When light filtered towards him, he sped up. Breaking through the tight ring of trees, Dean breathed deeply when he saw Sam kneeling down, working the stone he had found.

"Sam."

His brother's head snapped up at the sound of his voice. He rose quickly, kicking half the dirt he had cleared back onto the stone. "Dean, where did --"

"What," Dean asked. He took a stumbling step backward when Sam's hand rose, but his brother's long reach brought his fingertips to Dean's face anyway. He felt Sam's index finger brush across his cheek; Dean bit down on his lip, willing his arms to stay by his side, neither denying nor encouraging the touch. When Sam lowered his hand, Dean saw a smear of red across the tip. Raising his own hand, he felt a series of shallow welts, and the warm liquid of his blood.

"What happened?"

"I...I'm not sure," Dean said. "The trees must have raked me when I was trying to get back here."

Dean wiped the blood on his jeans, and watched as Sam rolled it between his thumb and index finger, rubbing it into the pattern of lines in the pads. Sam raised his eyes to Dean's; he brought his fingers up to his lips, and with slow licks, coated his tongue with Dean's blood. Dean couldn't stop the shiver that slid through his body; he couldn't stop himself from thinking of Sam's mouth, the moist heat of it, wrapped around him, sucking slowly, insistently. Closing his eyes, he took a halting step back, and another. "Sam."

"I don't want you to hold back, Dean."

"We can't do this," Dean began. "Not now...not-"

"Not ever? You're wrong about that," Sam said, turning away. He walked back to the stone, picked up the flashlight, and headed away from the direction they had come. Dean watched his brother go; unbidden, the thought came to his mind: Prove it, Sammy.

***

Abandoning the circle, Sam pushed furiously through low hanging branches. Each step he took away from Dean tightened the knots in his stomach. His brother's blood lingered on his tongue: Sweet as candy and tinged with the addictive burn of fine liquor. Losing sense of direction, he kept moving forward, knowing that his brother trailed him; an unwilling shadow.

Maybe Dean was right; they were going to meet their father, perhaps it wasn't the best time to pursue what Sam knew they both wanted. They couldn't afford to have that kind of emotion flicking between them like a live wire when they stood in front of John. Somehow he just couldn't bring himself to care. Slowing his steps, Sam realized that his patience had slipped too far, and before he knew it he was pivoting sharply.

"That kiss, Dean? It was just a small taste of what we could have together. When we make love...oh, God...Dean...I will come screaming your name...Tell me you don't want to hear that. Tell me you don't want to see it. Tell me you don't want to be the one to push me over the edge."

"I...can't," Dean whispered, closing his eyes. Sam watched his brother struggle with that admission; his fists clenched convulsively at his sides, his shoulders trembled under the strain of tension.

"Then stop fighting this. Fighting us. Please," Sam said.

Dean sighed, air rushing through him in jagged fits, before opening his eyes. Sam held his gaze, willing him to realize that they were inevitable, that they belonged together in every sense. "I don't know how to shift gears, Sammy."

"Then lets start right here, right now, with this," Sam said. He reached out, taking Dean's jacket in his hands, tugging him forward. Sam swept his tongue along Dean's lower lip; instinct alone had Dean responding, opening his mouth, accepting the wet push of Sam's tongue against his.

Sam stepped closer; he could feel the throb of Dean's heart against his chest. His own pulse jerked; it beat heavily in his ear, weaving between the rough pants of breath they stole from each other. Sam growled against Dean's lips before easing back. "How can you live without this now?"

But instead of answering, Dean threaded his fingers through Sam's hair, forcing his head back. Sam felt something suspend inside of him, something that broke when Dean pressed his lips to the column of Sam's throat. He tilted his head as Dean licked the sensitive skin there, teasing him with his lips, and the promise of a mark. A binding claim of possession.

"Don't stop," Sam pleaded, knowing as soon as the words fell that it was the wrong thing to say. He felt the loss of Dean's hot breath on his throat a second before his brother straightened. As Dean's hand slipped from his hair, Sam grabbed it, lacing his long fingers through Dean's. Holding on. When a second passed into a solid minute and Dean's hand was still in his, Sam relaxed enough to let air in his lungs.

"We need to stop. At least for now," Dean said, absently stroking his thumb over Sam's. "In case you've forgotten, dad's waiting. The sooner we can find out what he wants, the sooner we can get back to the room."

"Does that mean..."

"I'm not making any promises, Sam, but I'm...I'm not sure how much longer I'll be able to fight it," he said.

Sam smiled and dropped a quick kiss on his brother's glistening lips. "What are we waiting for? Let's go find dad."

The flashlight had rolled down a shallow incline when he dropped it. Hesitantly releasing Dean's hand, Sam walked to where it lay in a cluster of pine needles, bending to retrieve it. As soon as his fingers gripped the rubber casing the light faltered, blinking out before he could pick it up. "Son of a bitch."

"Sam, I think we should get---Sam!"

Whipping his head around, Sam saw Dean fall forward as though his feet were being dragged out from under him. He heard a thud as his brother's body hit the ground; he watched as Dean's chin connected with an exposed tree root. Sam scrambled up, abandoning the flashlight, but before he could reach him he saw Dean's legs elevate; something was moving his brother, jerking him back.

"Dean!"

Sam ran, thanking God for his long legs and stride; his eyes frantically searched for what was holding Dean, dragging him across the rough, uneven ground. His brother was fighting to loosen the unseen hold on his legs, clawing at the dirt to gain leverage, but his efforts weren't getting him anywhere. And no matter the speed, Sam realized he wasn't catching up.

He desperately went through a catalog in his head; he needed to know what it was to know how to deal with it. It didn't help. Everything he knew was fragmented, buried under the frantic pain in Dean's eyes. He kept running and he kept thinking. And somewhere in between he managed a small prayer. Please. I need him.

"Sammy, go! Find dad," Dean yelled.

Sam shook his head, sparing only a moment to wonder at how Dean could think he'd leave him. Reaching back, Sam tugged at the KA-BAR he had sheathed against his back. Slowing, Sam steadied his arm; he flung the blade, praying that enough speed was behind the throw to carry it past his brother's prone form.

The blade sunk into the trunk of a large willow a second after Dean's legs dropped and his body came to a jarring halt.

"Well, that was fucking ridiculous," Dean said, pushing up on his torn palms. Once he was on his feet, he brushed the dirt, blood and bits of rock that clung to his skin off on his jeans. "All of that target practice you bitched about growing up came in handy, huh?"

"You're alright?"

"Yeah," Dean said softly. "Rattled me a bit, but I'm good."

"What was it?"

Shrugging, Dean moved over to the willow; with effort he pulled the blade from the bark. Flipping it in the air, he caught the edge and offered the hilt to Sam. "C'mon. We're finding dad and getting the hell out of here."

Sam followed Dean, the muscles in his legs protesting the brisk pace after the full out run. Inside, he felt the tremble, the wordless worry that had eaten at him the moment he saw Dean fall. And as soon as he had picked himself up, Sam had wanted to launch himself at his brother; he held back, but barely. Complicating things like this wouldn't get Dean where Sam wanted him: In bed, naked, beside him every night for the rest of their lives.

"You know what I could go for right now," Dean asked, casting a glance at Sam out of the corner of his eyes.

"What?"

"Brownies. Warm, gooey brownies," Dean said, grinning.

"What is it with you and food, man?" Sam laughed, despite himself.

"Forget it. Look, this whole thing is bugging me. I swore I saw a man walking through the woods, but I lost him as soon as I stepped out of the circle. And that thing that was dragging me? The blade didn't penetrate anything but the tree. If we don't find this Maze soon..."

"You don't have to worry about that."

"What?"

"I think we found the Maze, Dean," Sam said. Stopping, Sam looked through the trees, noticing a break. Just beyond that was a tall hedge; a slit in the branches revealed the dark green of another cluster of bushes.

"Well, alright then," Dean said, moving forward.

Hesitating, Sam looked down the hedge line; it seemed to go on endlessly. "Hey, did you bring a ball of thread? Or maybe an axe?"

"Let's get something straight: I'm Theseus, you're Ariadne. It's your job to provide the supplies, dude."

"How did you---"

"Those Greek myths were full of scary shit. I was all over them growing up," he answered. "Now let's go."

Sam followed Dean to the gap in the hedge. Holding up his palm, Dean leaned into the tight entrance; the cords of his neck shifted as he looked left and right. Edging forward, Dean waved Sam on; they walked through and stopped.

"Hello, boys."

***